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Opinion: In its current format, children’s centre closure plans should NOT go ahead

PUBLISHED: 11:02 09 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:02 09 November 2018

Families against the closure of children's centres, meet Stuart Dark, back third left, chairman of the children's services committee, and Tim Eyres, right, head of children's intergrated commissioning at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Families against the closure of children's centres, meet Stuart Dark, back third left, chairman of the children's services committee, and Tim Eyres, right, head of children's intergrated commissioning at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

This isn’t something I’m proud to admit to thousands of readers, but for the first time ever I took part in a council consultation this week.

That’s pretty shocking really, given the impact local government decisions have on all of our lives but, until now, I guess there hasn’t been an issue I’ve either felt passionate enough about or that my opinion could make a difference.

But the ongoing consultation over Norfolk County Council proposals to close up to 46 of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres changed that and this week I logged onto their website to have my say.

I’ve had several experiences of children’s centres in Norfolk, mainly during the last five years since becoming a father. We’ve used them for play sessions, much-needed advice and support and as a health service.

I wouldn’t say that for me and my family they’ve been an absolutely vital service - but we’re very lucky to have a great support network around us.

Sadly many others are not so fortunate.

I know from speaking to the people we meet in this job and reading the stories we have covered, that for many families or single parents they are a lifeline.

They can be a place to get vital support when you might be at your lowest ebb, somewhere to get a helping hand when all other options have been exhausted or simply where you go when you feel lonely, depressed and helpless.

And for that reason, any decision to close them must not be taking lightly. Once they are gone, they are gone.

And I have several concerns about this proposal, which is why I wanted to give my view. I’m not saying the decisions have been taken lightly, but I do worry about the replacement plan to make up for the loss of these centres.

The consultation talks about a network of volunteers to set up like-for-like services in communities. But where is the guarantee there are enough people out there to do this?

It suggests the seven remaining centres will work as hubs, with places like community centres housing sessions that remain. But in a county the size of Norfolk will people be able to make the long journeys this could require?

It mentions a desire to offer more of these services from home. But with home care services already stretched to the limit and staff shortages often reported will this work? I worry this could increase the growing epidemic of loneliness?

I understand the reasons behind these proposals. Government grants to councils have been slashed and the savings have to come from somewhere.

But this extreme measure threatens to impact some of our most needy and vulnerable members of society. The very people our state is there to help.

I’m not convinced a robust plan has been revealed to make up for the loss. In its current format I can’t see how the plans can be approved.

As editor of this newspaper I shall make sure all sides of this debate are heard. I challenge our council leaders to release a more detailed plan of how they intend to replace the work these centres do.

If that isn’t possible, the impact of this decision threatens too many people to be given the go-ahead.

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